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Game of Thrones S1E9 review

REVIEWS - TV

War and moste foule dissent! And that's just the fan forums...

Game Of Thrones s1e9 'Baelor (Stark)

"Baelor"

SPOILER WARNING: Do not, DO NOT read/scroll down if you haven’t seen episode 9 of Game of Thrones.

Yeah, that just happened. Judging by the comments on the internet, the last three minutes of “Baelor” are going to either make or break Game of Thrones. Already there is a very strong reaction to the killing off of series star and primary main character Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean. Fans are calling it “cheap shock value”, “jarring and daring” and “genius”. So, it’s fair to say opinion is somewhat divided. One thing that cannot be said against HBO though, is that this was a shock tactic. HBO didn’t write the story – George R.R. Martin did, and believe me, it was just as shocking in the book. Look at the wide spectrum of television and movies across the decades, and you’ll find very, very few stories that kill off their main character. But, Game of Thrones is not typical TV - it’s HBO.

The show has done remarkably well and is, honestly, far more successful than I ever imagined it to be. It has drawn in audiences that fans of the books would not think possible. A year ago you couldn’t sit down on a British train without seeing someone reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. These days it’s Game of Thrones or one of its sequels. It’s phenomenal, and as a fan of the series for nearly ten years, more than a little surreal. But, nobody was expecting them to kill off Ned. He was the main character, and as audiences, we are always quietly reassured that nothing bad happens to the main character because…well, he’s the main character. Well, welcome to the Seven Kingdoms. When Cersei Lannister said you win or you die, she wasn’t joking.

In some ways, this is going to sort the wheat from the chaff. Some viewers are loudly declaring how they intend to abandon the show (some even go so far as to say they’re giving up HBO altogether), while others have suddenly become even more invested, recognizing this act as a game changer. For the record, it’s worth stating that in the novels once Ned has kicked the bucket, that’s when the story really begins. In many ways, the first book is all prologue. The real bulk of the series is yet to come. So inevitably, some people will drop out. For some, this will simply be too out of the box, too unexpected and too unconventional. The majority of people who watch television enjoy being able to predict what’s going to happen, and when that isn’t what they get, sometimes toys get thrown out of prams. It isn’t easy to find a TV show that genuinely surprises you, and ultimately something as crucial as this is going to polarise the audience; some will quit now, but the ones who stay will now be fully committed, totally on-board and will love the show for messing with their expectations.

"If Ned’s death has soured you against the show, then Game of Thrones is not for you. This is just the beginning"

For a little bit of context, consider fantasy as a genre. Fantasy is a genre full of (bloated with, even) noble, honourable characters who fight for what is good and right. And, inevitably, they win. There’s no shock there. It’s simply assumed. No one ever for a moment considered Frodo wouldn’t succeed in destroying the ring, because that wouldn’t make for a happy ending, and audiences demand a happy ending where the good guys win and the villains lose. Well, there’s a reason Game of Thrones is one of the most successful series in the genre, and perhaps the biggest reason behind that is that it refuses to play by the established rules. Know this: if Ned’s death has soured you against the show, then Game of Thrones is not for you. This is just the beginning.

Sean Bean has been great as Ned, bringing the appropriate level of gravitas and depth to the role, and he will be sorely missed. His departure is going to have a tremendous effect on the show, just as it did in the books. His final scene on the steps of Baelor, looking at out the bloodthirsty crowd but noting the absence of Arya was as poignant as any scene in the series. With Bean’s absence next season, the producers have a chance to fill the void of honourable lead and big name actors in his stead. Mark Strong as Stannis Baratheon (currently an off-screen character but someone audiences will see a great deal of next season) would be a dream realised, but with his recent box office success, that seems a dream too far. The obvious candidate to take over the honourable protagonist role is Ser Davos Seaworth, Stannis’ advisor and right-hand man. Personally, I’d love to see Gabriel Byrne in this role and with HBO not continuing Byrne’s own star-vehicle series In Treatment, it’s possible this may not be too much to hope for.

"The number of horse executions in this show is getting worrying – makes you wonder if the writers had any horse-related accidents as children"

Ned’s death is certainly the most significant development in the episode, but there were other moments that deserve our attention, too. Our introduction to Shae, Tyrion’s whore-wife, lead to some interesting but somewhat clunky exposition that revealed a little of the character’s pasts. We discover the history behind Tyrion’s wife, Tysha, who turned out to be a whore Jaime paid for so that Tyrion could have his first woman. It all ends in tears (and rape) when Tywin Lannister allowed his entire house guard to have their way with Tysha, and Tyrion’s faith in love is lost for good and all. The scene was revealing and gave some vital information that non-readers needed for background, but the game that Tyrion insisted they played to get there felt a bit contrived and out of character. It felt a little too immature, forced and out of place, not to mention long-winded.

As Robb marches South for the Lannisters and King’s Landing, he stumbles upon a problem: the Trident river, passable only through The Twins, two castles held by Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley, aka Filch in the Harry Potter movies). It’s perhaps unfair to say, as to me Walder Frey will always be Alan Alda, but David Bradley didn’t feel right as Lord Frey. Once again, I was impressed by the exterior of one of the key locations of Westeros but disappointed by the interior, which felt small, cramped and damp, quite unlike the grand, rich hall I’d envisioned. The Twins will becoming increasingly prominent as the series goes on, so perhaps the producers will change the looks of it over time.

There wasn’t a great deal of Jon Snow in this episode, but his moment with Maester Aemon was one of the more memorable scenes. It was revealed Maester Aemon is Aemon Targaryen, kin to Daenerys and the last surviving member of the Targaryen family in Westeros. Aemon gives Jon some choice words about deciding between family and duty, as Jon argues that his father would do “the right thing” no matter what. He’s right of course – Ned decides to go against everything he knows, dishonours himself by falsely claiming to be a traitor and allowing the Lannisters to take the throne, all so he can save Sansa and Arya.

Daenerys nearly lost her mind as she realized Drogo was about to snuff it. Preggers and emotional, it’s to be expected. She decided to use “blood magic” with the maegi Mirri Maz Duur, a witch universally scorned by all the Dothraki including Drogo. In the end it was the Khal’s poor horse that had to pay the price, suffering a slit throat. The number of horse executions in this show is getting worrying – makes you wonder if the writers had any horse-related accidents as children.

With just one week left, Game of Thrones is poised to take things to the next level, though whether half the audience of the past nine weeks will be there to witness it remains to be seen.

See also:

Game of Thrones S1E9 recap


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